hagerman horse head fossil

Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument is a can’t miss Idaho destination for fossil and history enthusiasts. It is a small park but it packs a big punch.

Fossils from over 200 different species have been discovered at the Hagerman Fossil Beds, including Idaho’s state fossil, the Hagerman Horse. The Oregon Trail also passes through the National Monument. Keep reading to plan your visit.

Table of Contents

Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument Logistics

  • Location: Hagerman in southern Idaho (30 miles NW of Twin Falls)
  • Hours: sunrise to sunset (roads to overlooks are not maintained in winter); visitors center hours vary seasonally
  • Time Recommended to Visit: 2 hours or less
  • Visitor Center: 3,400 sqft interagency Thousand Springs Visitor Center (expected opening fall 2021)
  • Why It’s Famous: rich fossil deposits including the world’s largest concentration of Hagerman Horse remains
official NPS map of Hagerman Fossil Beds
Official Hagerman Fossil Bed Map
Courtesy: NPS

Things to do at Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument

Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument is a small park in Southern Idaho. It can easily be seen within a couple of hours. However nearby Thousand Springs State Park can easily keep visitors busy for a day or more.

Hagerman Fossil Beds has limited options of things to do. Things to do on a visit to Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument are:

  • Check out fossils at the Visitor Center
  • Drive to an Overlook
  • Hike the Emigrant Trail
  • Attend a ranger program

Hagerman Fossil Beds Visitor Center

Don’t miss visiting the Hagerman Visitor Center. It is the only place in the monument to see fossils.

The old Hagerman Fossil Beds Visitor Center in downtown Hagerman is closed as they move into a new facility. A new inter-agency Thousand Springs Visitor Center is opening soon.

A soft opening is scheduled for September 2021 with limited fossils on display. The full opening is planned for 2022 with a new park film, all-new educational fossil exhibits, park ranger programs and recreation information.

Hagerman Fossil Beds Visitor Center is a great location to learn more about the fossils found in Idaho. The park rangers can provide insight into the current paleontology work happening at the Hagerman Fossil Beds. Hagerman Fossil Beds is one of a few National Parks with a full-time staff paleontologist.

The visitor center displays several of the fossils discovered in the area including a full Hagerman Horse skeleton.

hagerman horse at hagerman fossil beds visitor center

Drive to an Overlook

There are two scenic overlooks within the park, Snake River Overlook and Oregon Trail Overlook. Both sites offer picnic tables and vault toilets.

Snake River Overlook

The Snake River Overlook offers panoramic views of the Snake River. Wheelchairs and those with mobility limitations can visit the viewing platform along the short paved walkway.

The distant cliffs lining the opposite banks of the river are fossil-rich. Educational interpretative signs share details about Hagerman during the Pliocene era, 3 million years ago.

Oregon Trail Overlook

The Oregon Trail Overlook requires a short walk on an unpaved path. It also offers views of fossil-rich distant bluffs and the Oregon Trail. Educational interpretative signs along the path share details about the human history of the area. Expect to learn about the life of Shoshone natives, settlers who traveled the Oregon Trail, and scientists who work in the area now.

Hike the Emigrant Trail

Due to steep and unstable terrain at Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument, hiking is restricted to established trails. The only hiking trail in the National Monument is the Emigrant Trail.

It is a 6 mile out and back. The hike can also be done in one direction if you have two cars or a non-hiker who can drive between the trailheads. Trailheads are located at the Oregon Trail Overlook and Snake River Overlook.

The trail runs parallel to the Oregon Trail. It offers visitors insight into the experience of early homesteaders.

If you are interested in more hiking near Hagerman, we recommend the Box Canyon trail at Thousand Springs State Park. For more details, check out Best Things to do in Twin Falls: Maximizing your trip to the Idaho Magic Valley

Attend a Ranger Program

Park Rangers offer educational programs at the Hagerman Fossil Bed Visitor Center. Topics include geology, fossils, history and more.

We love finding free National Park programs that coincide with our visit. They are a great way to build an understanding of the location and ask the questions that have been intriguing you during your visit. Check the park calendar for scheduled programs.


What is a fossil bed?

Fossils are the remains of living organisms that have been preserved in the Earth’s crust. Fossil beds are the locations where fossils have been discovered.

Each year over 3,000 new fossil fragments are found in Hagerman.

Paleontologists collect and study fossils to learn more about the Earth’s origins. Fossils can explain unique events such as drastically changing weather patterns. They also provide insight into the evolution of species over time. The proximity of fossil finds can explain the dependency of one species on a different seeming unrelated species during certain periods.


What fossils are found in Idaho?

Fossils are abundant in Idaho. Rich deposits at Hagerman Fossil Beds represent an entire paleontological ecosystem with a variety of habitats such as wetland, riparian, and grassland savanna.

The most famous fossils found in Hagerman Idaho belong to the single-toed Hagerman horse, Equus simplicidens. Over 200 specimens of the Hagerman horse have been discovered at a single site, called the quarry.

Several fossils were first found in Hagerman Idaho. These discoveries continue to add to our understanding of the Pliocene era.

Over 200 different species of fossil plants and animals have been discovered in Hagerman Idaho. A few of the partial fossils featured in the visitor center are sabertooth cat, mastodon, bear, camel, and giant ground slot.

Where can you dig for fossils in Idaho?

Due to rich fossil deposits, Hagerman Fossil Beds and several other areas in Idaho have been set aside as research areas. Personal digs are not allowed for fossils or rocks. Only authorized park staff are permitted to dig for fossils in Hagerman Idaho.

However, visitors are permitted to dig for fossils or rocks on some Bureau of Land Management public lands without a permit. Check land-use restrictions at the regional ranger station. Two-thirds of Idaho is designated as public lands.

Generally, collecting petrified wood and invertebrate fossils on public land is allowed for non-commercial use. The rough guideline is a modest amount of invertebrate fossils such as coral, snails, leaf plants and mollusks are allowed to be collected for personal use. Items collected cannot be sold for profit.

Hagerman Horse

The Hagerman horse is a small horse species, similar to a zebra, and predates the horses brought over by the Europeans. It is the state fossil of Idaho. You can get close to a full horse skeleton at the Hagerman Visitor Center.

A section of the fossil bed contained the remains of hundreds of the same species of horse. The reason why so many horses were killed at the same spot with no other species is not known but scientists have stopped digging the area and have moved to other nearby areas. Hagerman Horse fossils are on display in the Smithsonian museum and many other museums around the world.

Excerpt about the distribution of horse fossils to other institutions from a 2015 Smithsonian article.

“The Smithsonian had more horse fossils than it needed for research or exhibit at the time. They decided to trade with other museums that did not have horse fossils. Smithsonian archives contain letters detailing offers of, and requests for, fossil horse skeletons and skulls. The Colorado Museum of Natural History traded a skeleton of Equus simplicidens for a skeleton of the early rhinoceros Trigonias osborni around 1931, and a 1932 exchange with the Los Angeles County Museum of History, Science and Art was worth a Pleistocene horse, Equus occidentalis. In 1933, an exchange with the Royal Ontario Museum brought skulls of the Late Cretaceous dinosaurs Prosaurolophus maximus (USNM 12712) and Edmontosaurus regalis (USNM 12711) from Alberta in exchange for horse fossils. A complete fossil horse skeleton, eight skulls, and five months of Charles W. Gilmore’s time was deemed equal to a partial skeleton of the Late Jurassic dinosaur Camarasaurus from the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh in 1935.”


Where did the Hagerman Horse live?

The Hagerman Horse was discovered in Hagerman Idaho. It was the first true horse with a single toe. However, its bones most closely resemble Grevy’s zebra. It is believed horses, such as the Hagerman Horse, thrived in North America until droughts caused their extinction.

Horse species in Asia and Europe survived the same period. They evolved over time into different species. European settlers to North America reintroduced horses to the area.

This video details the areas of the park including a section of the Horse Quarry dig site.

Where to stay in Hagerman

Hagerman is located in southern Idaho within 30 miles of Twin Falls. The City of Twin Fall offers national hotel brands. Below we provide several camping options in Hagerman near the fossil beds. Camping prices range from free dry camping to resort amenities and prices.

Hagerman Fossil Beds Camping

As full-time RV travelers finding an affordable campsite is challenging.

Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument does not offer camping on park property. There is no park campground and dispersed camping is not allowed on park property. However, there are several campsites in the town of Hagerman or even more options in nearby Twin Falls.

Affordable camping near Hagerman: Twin Falls County Fairground

While visiting the Twin Falls and Hagerman area, we stayed at the Twin Falls County Fairgrounds.

young girl walking hog at twin falls county fairgorund

If camping at the fairgrounds, the drive to Hagerman Fossil Beds is 30 miles. The campground offers hundreds of sites with water, sewer and electric hookups.

In 2020, we paid $106 for seven nights on a full hookup site. It is a great deal and we loved the location. However, the campsites have a few downsides. Sites are close together and all hookups are located at the back of the site. Connecting sewer requires multiple lengths of hose.

We took full advantage of the full hook-up life and took long showers, did laundry, did long cooks and ran the air conditioners without considering power consumption. The fairgrounds offer dry camping even cheaper. They even have a nice bathhouse available for campers’ use.

I’d recommend calling the Twin County Fairgrounds at 208.326.4396  to check current rates and confirm availability. RV sites are unavailable during large events such as the fair or livestock shows. We had to look really pitiful and basically beg for them to find room for us during a huge livestock show.

We loved staying at the Twin Falls County Fairgrounds. It is an attraction to visit in Twin Falls even if you’re not camping there. To read more about the fairgrounds and all of the things to see and do there, check out our Twin Falls post.

Check out our friends Kristin and Jameson’s recent YouTube about camping at the Twin Falls Fairgrounds.


Free camping near Hagerman Fossil Beds in Hagerman Idaho

If you are interested in boondocking for free on public land, there is one camping option near Hagerman Fossil Beds. The Bell Rapids boat ramp allows RVers to stay for up to 10 days. Based on Campendium reviews, there is only one campsite away from the boat ramp parking area and it is first come first serve.

Boondocking or dry camping is great for self-contained RVs. To learn more water conservation tips to stretch your boondocking limits, check out 21 Best Tricks for Saving Water in an RV: Extend Boondocking Stays with Conservation.

Camping options near Hagerman Fossil Beds: RV Parks

For those who enjoy RV park amenities, here are a few camping options in Hagerman.

Hagerman RV Village

18049 Highway 30

Hagerman, ID 83332

208.837.4906


Rest EZ RV Park & Campground

1211 E 2350 S.

Hagerman, ID 83332

208.837.9005

Alternative camping options near Hagerman Fossil Beds: Hot Springs

The Magic Valley of Idaho, near Twin Falls, has several options to visit hot springs. Buhl is home to two hot springs, Miracle Hot Springs and Banbury Hot Springs.

They offer camping less than 12 miles from the Hagerman Fossil Beds. Camping restrictions and prices vary based on location. Some hot springs include admission to the pools in camping fees, but some do not.

We visited Banbury Hot Springs for a swim and some kayaking. To read about the hot springs and our paddle to Blue Heart Springs, a beautiful blue hole, check out Best Things to do in Twin Falls: Maximizing your trip to the Idaho Magic Valley

blue heart springs in twin fall idaho

While visiting Banbury, we were very jealous of those camping at a hot spring.

Miracle and Banbury have the same owner but are slightly different. The Miracle Hot Springs has a few more amenities and slightly higher prices. Both offer camping near Hagerman.

Miracle Hot Springs

19073A US-30

Buhl, ID 83316

208.543.6002

Banbury Hot Springs

1128 Banbury Rd

Buhl, ID 83316

208.543.6002

Things to do in Hagerman

Hagerman is a great destination for a family summer vacation with plenty of things to do. It is a really cute town with an abundance of educational opportunities.

A few of the top things we enjoyed in the Hagerman area in addition to the Fossil beds are:

Nearby Twin Falls offers additional attractions to keep everyone entertained for a week or more. For a complete list of things to do in the area including details check out our Twin Falls article.

Summary Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument in Idaho

In conclusion, the Hagerman Fossil Beds are a small National Monument in southern Idaho. Fossil and history buffs will love this park. However, it can easily be seen in a couple of hours or less. If short on time, don’t miss the Hagerman Fossil Beds visitor center. It is the only place to see fossils in the park so it should be a priority stop.

thousand springs state park near hagerman idaho

Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument YouTube Video

History of Horses in North America (PBS Eons YouTube)

Documentary about the Hagerman Valley History


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